The “prehistoric” shark with 300 teeth that was caught by accident

The “prehistoric” shark with 300 teeth that was caught by accident


When the marine biologists saw him in the fishing net they immediately knew that they were facing an unusual animal.

It had characteristics that were unlike anything they had seen before: a round head and a long row of 300 sharp, thin teeth, typical of a dangerous predator.

They would soon verify that they were facing a Chlamydoselachus anguineus or, as it is commonly called, an eel shark, a little-known prehistoric species.

The animal was captured last August in waters near the Algarve, the southernmost area of Portugal.

“Living fossil”

Although it is considered a “living fossil”, the eel shark is a species that is fairly geographically distributed : from Angola to Chile, from Guyana to New Zealand, from Spain to Japan.

However, little is known about their lifestyle habits as well as the size of their population.

In part, that is because he usually lives at great depths, which makes it difficult to see and follow up.

Unlike most shark species, this one has a round head and not flattened.  (Photo: courtesy Marian Torres).
Image captionUnlike most shark species, this one has a round head and not flattened. (Photo: courtesy Marian Torres).

In the case of the shark caught in Portugal, it was caught in a net launched 700 meters deep.

But what makes it so special?


“This shark belongs to the only surviving species of a shark family in which all the others became extinct,” Margarida Castro, a professor and researcher at the Center for Marine Sciences at the University of Algarve, told BBC.

“Some estimate that this species dates from late Jurassic, it may be a bit more recent, but in any case we are talking about tens of thousands of years, so it is quite old in evolutionary terms .It is certainly on the earth before man, “adds the expert.

Castro is part of the MINOUW project, an initiative to minimize unwanted catches by European fishing vessels. Hence, there was a presence of researchers in a commercial fishing boat.


Although most sharks have a flat head and the eel shark has a round head, its fins and the entire lower part of its body leave no doubt to experts that it is a shark and not a species of eel.

However, as Castro points out, what is really unique about this animal is its teeth.

The fins and the lower part of the body identify these animals as sharks.  (Photo: courtesy Marian Torres).
Image captionThe fins and the lower part of the body identify these animals as sharks. (Photo: courtesy Marian Torres).

” It has a large row of teeth perpendicular to the jaw, are very sharp, thin and point in . That allows you to catch large prey and keep them in the mouth because if they fight they can only advance inside the mouth of the animal because the teeth prevent them from leave, “says Castro.

“Thus, they are able to catch something and not let it escape, clearly it is a very aggressive predator,” he added.

In the case of the specimen captured in Portugal, it was an adult male 1.5 meters long and when it was taken from the sea it was already dead.

“From that depth, most of the fish arrive dead, the net goes up very fast and they can not survive the sudden change of pressure,” explains Castro.

The little information that we have about this species even makes it difficult to know if it is at risk of extinction.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN, for its acronym in English) places the eel shark as “near threatened” species because it is tem and the expansion of deep – sea fisheries leads to an increase in its accidental capture .

For Castro, however, the question of whether it is a species at risk is still very difficult to answer.

“We do not know what the proportion of what we are trapping is, if our fishing rate is proportional to how rare its presence in the ocean is, then we are facing an endangered species, but we do not have that information at this time” , he points.

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